The Other Aide Entangled in Dem Rep’s Bribery Scandal

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Photo Illustration by Thomas Levinson/The Daily Beast/Getty
Photo Illustration by Thomas Levinson/The Daily Beast/Getty

Rep. Marie Newman (D-IL) is already under investigation for allegedly inking an improper contract with a rival to keep him from running against her. But it turns out that rival isn’t the only one who scored a sweet deal with the freshman Democrat; one of his top political allies got one, too.

In her deposition to the Office of Congressional Ethics late last year, Newman attested that not only did she sign documents as a 2020 candidate guaranteeing a six-figure job to would-be primary competitor Professor Iymen Chehade, but she also made a similar pact with her current chief of district affairs, Shadin Maali. What’s more, sources told The Daily Beast, Maali conducted outreach and introductions on behalf of Chehade’s never-official bid for what is now Newman’s Chicagoland seat.

Chehade, a Palestinian-American academic now running for a new Illinois House district created under reapportionment, sued Newman last year for failing to make good on the bargain. The two ultimately settled the case out of court in June. And two days after reaching an undisclosed agreement, Newman’s campaign began making payments to the professor, whom it has since called “an important member of our team.”

In the suit, Chehade reiterated that he dropped his own candidacy as part of trade that was supposed to yield him a plum job in Newman’s congressional office. But the civil complaint also appeared to connect the Newman campaign’s recruitment of Maali to this arrangement.

“In an effort to induce Chehade not to run against her in the primary, Newman offered Chehade employment as Foreign Policy Advisor and Legislative or District Director. In the summer of 2019 Newman also hired a Palestinian-American woman, Shadin Maali, as her Campaign Chairwoman,” the lawsuit reads.

<div class="inline-image__caption"><p>Iymen Chehade</p></div> <div class="inline-image__credit">Maren Rosenberg/Wikimedia Commons</div>

Iymen Chehade

Maren Rosenberg/Wikimedia Commons

Maali, who never responded to repeated requests for comment, began work as Newman’s Chief of District affairs when the congresswoman assumed office in 2021. She is the only employee in the entire House of Representatives with that title. Congressional disbursement records show that Maali earned $63,277.75 from Newman’s office in the first nine months of 2021. She also raked in $11,810.37 from the campaign last year.

Elected officials often give campaign staffers positions in their government offices. But Newman’s legally binding job contracts go way beyond the norm, ethics advocates said—especially since just two people on her team got them.

“I can’t think of another time I've seen this kind of thing happening,” Jordan Libowitz, communications director for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, told The Daily Beast. “It kind of makes you ask what the congresswoman was getting out of it. Why sign a contract guaranteeing jobs to these people?”

Even more worrisome, the deal signed with Maali has never become public. Libowitz recalled that the contract Newman signed with Chehade bound her to certain positions on the Israeli-Palestinian issue.

Dem Rep. Signed Contract Promising Job to Rival, Watchdog Says

"Promising the ability to shape policy in a certain direction is so out of the question for a member of Congress," said Libowitz. “It really does make you question what they would put in other contracts with other people, if it's more than just a job offer.”

Chehade told The Daily Beast that Maali’s job was never a consideration in his dealings with Newman, calling her hiring “a separate negotiation” that occurred well after he had decided not to seek the congressional seat.

But even if negotiations for Maali’s role were in fact “separate,” they were nearly as strange as the ones that transpired between the congresswoman and Chehade.

In her deposition to the Office of Congressional Ethics, Newman testified that Maali introduced her to Chehade, and was one of only three other people aware of the accord the aspiring politician reached with the academic in December 2018.

That deal was conditional on Newman deciding to run against Lipinski a second time—a decision she told the Office of Congressional Ethics she did not ultimately make until March 2019—but did not include Chehade dropping his campaign among its terms. Newman has denied that she signed the extraordinary deal to stop him from running for her seat.

Still, Newman testified that she had another agreement with Maali.

“I knew all the way along, you know, even in my first run, that she would be part of any administration because we're close friends and I knew she could do a great job,” Newman said, adding: “We hired her and she's doing a great job.”

<div class="inline-image__caption"><p>Marie Newman (D-IL) arrives at the Hyatt Regency hotel on Capitol Hill on November 12, 2020.</p></div> <div class="inline-image__credit">Sarah Silbiger/Getty</div>

Marie Newman (D-IL) arrives at the Hyatt Regency hotel on Capitol Hill on November 12, 2020.

Sarah Silbiger/Getty

But this explanation for this contract only makes Maali’s outreach on behalf of Chehade early in the 2020 cycle seem stranger.

Newman’s overtures to community leaders and prospective donors occurred in the summer of 2018 and may have continued into 2019, local insiders said. One of these sources also shared a communication, time-stamped in late November 2018, in which they and others discussed Maali’s efforts on Chehade’s behalf.

The sources said they found Maali’s promotion of Chehade curious, since she had participated in a video promoting Newman’s first run against then-incumbent Rep. Dan Lipinski in February 2018—just weeks before Lipinski defeated Newman in the March primary, and only months before the sources said she began boosting the professor.

Chehade never registered his exploratory committee for Congress with election authorities. But there is hard evidence of cooperation between Maali and Chehade at the time he was weighing a bid for the House.

Illinois campaign finance records show the pair founded the ”U.S. Palestine Political Action Committee” together in June 2018, declaring in its filings with the state that it “encourages Palestinian Americans to run for office and supports candidates who support a peace.” The committee never raised money beyond the $300 in its account at the time of its founding, and it filed its final report in January 2020.

Sources told The Daily Beast they did not believe the PAC was intended to support Chehade for Congress, though they speculated he might have hoped to use it to raise his name recognition.

Newman’s office ignored all inquiries about Maali’s relationship with Chehade, instead praising the staffer and noting her long relationship with the congresswoman.

“Shadin Maali has been a volunteer and dedicated supporter of our campaign since 2017,” said a spokesman. “She continues to be a supporter and a valuable member of our team."

The office also asserted that no contract between Maali and Newman was ever “executed,” despite Maali’s employment in House and on the campaign. Her team would not speak to the congresswoman’s testimony to the Office of Congressional Ethics that she had signed such an agreement.

Libowitz, the good government expert, urged Newman, Chehade, and Maali to dispel all lingering questions by divulging all documents and details pertaining to their negotiations and relationships.

"Be open and transparent about what these contracts were, what they said, and how they came about,” he argued.

A House Ethics Committee investigation is now underway.

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